College Basketball National Title Contender: Why There’s Great Value on Alabama

College Basketball National Title Contender: Why There’s Great Value on Alabama article feature image

Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images. Pictured: Nate Oats (Alabama)

The journey to a college basketball national title seemed to be very much possible for the No. 1 overall seed Alabama in the spring of 2023. Then, an unexpected loss against eventual national runner-up San Diego State abruptly ended both the Tide's season and Brandon Miller’s time in Tuscaloosa.

Jahvon Quinerly also left via the transfer portal, but head coach Nate Oats was able to do his own portal shopping, gathering Grant Nelson and Aaron Estrada as competent replacements for what was lost.

For Alabama in 2023-24, five early-season losses have provided a unique set of obstacles. However, championship aspirations aren't yet extinguished by a few setbacks.

The opponents Alabama has lost to are a combined 49-9, and Ohio State (27th) owns the worst KenPom rank of the five teams that the Tide have failed to beat.

Oats and his team will surely need to show more resilience, adaptability and strategic adjustments than they displayed at the close of last season. But here’s why I think Alabama may be poised to do just that, and why you should consider the Crimson Tide a great value at +4000 to win it all.

Analyzing the Early Setbacks

To address the Crimson Tide's early losses, it's imperative to dissect the margins and consistencies that have emerged among all of them.

At times, a lack of offensive cohesion has been paired with consistent defensive struggles. Rectifying the consistent defensive issues has become the glaring challenge for Oats to confront if he is to position his team for a successful turnaround.

Strengthening Team Cohesion

Coaching a roster that includes a surefire lottery pick, among 11 other contributors, is truly a challenge. Yes, every coach in America would sign up to take on that challenge, but a player like Brandon Miller inherently must be coached differently, and often must be given a longer leash to make mistakes and play selfishly.

Miller’s talent earned Alabama a No. 1 seed and a manageable path to the Final Four. Yet, even players like Miller are susceptible to having an off-night, and the inability of Oats to develop the cohesiveness of the remaining roster pieces led to an upset loss.

Nelson and Mark Sears are great college basketball players, but neither have the talent of Miller. In terms of the long-term success of Alabama and its ability to win six games consecutively in 2024, I’m here to make the case for why this may ultimately prove to be a good thing.

One of the key elements of a successful basketball team is cohesion, both on and off the court. The early losses may indicate a need for the players to develop a better understanding of each other's styles and tendencies.

Instead of relying on a single player to create off the dribble and find a shot for himself as the shot clock winds down, Oats will need to ensure his offense has plenty of side-to-side ball-movement. Alabama’s talent is much more balanced this season, which should pressure defenses to communicate and respect the Tide’s ability to score from all five positions.

Truthfully, I don’t worry at all about Alabama’s ability to score, even against the nation’s toughest defensive units. It’s its own defensive efforts that I believe need significant improvement.

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Defensive Adjustments

Defense wins championships, and the Crimson Tide must address the defensive lapses that have contributed to their early losses. After boasting the nation’s third-ranked defense, according to KenPom, last season, the Tide have fallen back to 93rd in the same metric this year.

The lack of defensive prowess falls almost exactly in line with Oats' team from 2021-22 that finished the season 19-14 and lost four straight games to close the season.

Oats will likely never be able to get this team to be as defensively efficient as last year’s group, but adjustments can certainly be made to improve on that end. Oats may consider tweaking defensive schemes, experimenting with zone defenses or focusing on individual matchups to shore up their defensive vulnerabilities.

The success of the Crimson Tide will almost certainly boil down to creating more defensive urgency. Yes, all five losses have come against quality competition and their NCAA tournament resume won't be significantly hindered by any of those defeats, but all five of the Tide’s losses have coincided with the opponent scoring 85 or more points.

Kansas head coach Bill Self notably pointed out in 2022 that teams that are able to win six NCAA tournament games in a row almost never do so by playing well above their own standard in all of those games. Instead, teams that win in the NCAA tournament often do so by making their opponent play worse than their usual standard.

Using that logic, Alabama will need to develop a defensive ability that can force its opponent to struggle, even when the Tide are having an inefficient night themselves.

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Betting Recommendation for Tide

The Tide's journey to contention for the national title remains well within reach, despite the early 7-5 record. Casual fans may view Alabama’s early 7-5 tally as a comprehensive indictment on its chance to evolve and become an eventual postseason threat.

By addressing issues related to their rotations that can aid cohesion both offensively and defensively, Oats can guide his team through the midseason transformation it needs.

The holiday break is often a landmark we can look back at towards the end of the year. Less games and a mental reset creates opportunities for coaches to make minor changes in practice that can lead to wholesale changes in terms of on-court results.

The early losses shouldn't be viewed as roadblocks. The SEC is a formidable conference, yet one Alabama should still aspire to win. The holiday break could be the perfect setting for the Tide to reset and emerge from the disappointment to begin building momentum.

If Oats can develop a defensive unit to pair with the talented and balanced scoring options he has, the Tide could absolutely re-establish themselves as contenders.

If Alabama is able to piece together the defense enough to become even just a top-50 team in efficiency, the price of 40:1 seems extremely attractive in a year without one or two truly dominant teams.

Pick: Alabama to Win National Title (+4000)

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